Lewis McGregor from Shutterstock Tutorials recently posted a video showing several different ways of getting the perfect light when shooting outdoor interviews in the sun using different types of modifiers.
The following will discuss the three main modifiers mentioned in the video, however, from our experience, only the second option is really ideal, at least in most situations and we will try to explain exactly why.
Blocking the light
The first option McGregor talks about is blocking the light using a flag. The flag cuts down on the amount of light but it might not be enough for reducing direct mi-day sun.
You can also block with other tools including other fabrics or for that matter even a foamboard or large cardboard as long as you can hold it long enough in the right position.
The main issue with blocking for preventing harsh outdoor light is that it cuts all light onto your subject. This produces a situation where your subject might be in shade but the background is in full sunlight and you get a very overexposed background or a very underexposed subject.
You can, of course, add more light to your subject but that requires a LOT of light, which is not always possible and your subject might not appreciate it.
Diffusing the light
As we mentioned above our prefered method and the one that we feel will work the best in most direct sunlight situations is diffusing the light.
Using scrims, frames or just large collapsing diffusers (if you find a good way of holding them above your subject at the right angle so that they won’t fly in the wind and keep out of frame) is really the way to go.
Unlike other methods this will, as the name suggests, diffuse the light, prevent hotspots, create a much softer look and make your subject more comfortable. Just remember that you might need a pretty thick diffusion (these typically come in anywhere from 1/4 to 2 stops with 1/2 and 1 full stops of diffusion as some of the most common).
You might still need to add light to prevent harsh shadows if the sun comes from one side (either by adding a light or with a reflector but if you have enough diffusion you won’t need too much of it and it will be very well controlled and not overwhelm your subject).
Reflecting the light
The last method McGregor mentions is reflecting light back into the subject. This might sound strange (and to us seems pretty wrong to be honest) but you can reflect light (using a reflector, bounce board, foam board or other reflective material to introduce light to the side of your subject that is away from the light.
This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, this will make it even harder on your subject, this will increase the exposure of your image even more (although this species can be overcome to some degree as mentioned in the next paragraph), and it might just create more hotspots and your light will likely still be very hard on your subject.
Another very useful tool not mentioned in this video is adding ND or VND filters. This can cut almost any amount of light that goes into the sensor allowing you to bring your exposure to a correct level. However, filters will not help prevent hotspots, they will not make your subject more comfortable in direct sunlight and they will cut all light to the scene which can result in an image that can sometimes look unnatural.
Combining diffusion with a low ND or VND can produce the best results in many situations – especially with very bright sun. In these situations, some added controlled light can be introduced back into the subject for better control (but the amount can be significantly lower than when cutting all light).